Honda’s virtual reality (VR) lab in its Los Angeles design studio is already delivering results for the company, as the design teams were able to confer during the pandemic lockdown to evaluate color, materials, and finishes and to visualize all model trims holistically produce interior designs for the 2023 Pilot SUV. Since then, they’ve also worked on the 2023 Pilot TrailSport SUV and 2024 Prologue electric crossover SUV.
The ability to visualize and share ambient lighting, Human Machine Interface content, and quick iterations of layout lets designers try different options. At the same time, engineers benefitted from VR’s simulation of reach and ergonomic studies without building a physical mock-up. One test evaluated color in a VR environment, yielding instant feedback between the design studios in Los Angeles and Japan.
"Virtual reality prototyping removed limitations to the interior design and allowed us to address feedback quicker and collaborate more cohesively with the HMI and color, materials, and finishes design teams," said Lisa Lee, interior design project lead.
Honda’s Los Angeles design studio started using VR technology in 2017, but the technology achieved critical mass at the studio when the 2,500-sq.-ft. studio dedicated to VR development officially opened in 2020. The timing was critical to helping the design team work through the pandemic.
“VR started to play a critical role on several fronts for our designers and engineers when we were met with challenges during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic,” remarked Honda Design Studio Virtual Reality Design Leader Mathieu Geslin. “VR technology bridged the divide among our teams in Ohio and Japan created by travel restrictions, enabling our teams to provide quicker feedback to address issues, as well as compressing our development schedule unlike anything we had done before.”
The teams did this using XR-3 mixed-reality headsets and Aero VR headsets from the Finnish company Varjo, with software partially developed in-house with Honda specifications. The Aero VR goggles boast true-to-life, edge-to-edge clarity across 115 degrees field of view with resolution of 35 pixels per degree.
The XR-3 mixed-reality headset is suited to professional workflow applications merging virtual, augmented, and physical realities with human-eye resolution at more than 70 pixels per degree and lidar for depth awareness. Varjo boasts that users can no longer tell the difference between what is real and what is not.
Image courtesy of Varjo
Image courtesy of Varjo
What is real for Honda’s designers was the progress on its upcoming EV. “For the Honda Prologue, our first full-electric SUV that is coming in 2024, we fully utilized VR as a data-led design process, with clay modeling as the verification tool,” said Geslin. “The design team leveraged our VR tools to visualize photorealistic 3D data in full size, and evaluate styling right here with our remote teams.”
With the experience behind them, the team plans to apply these techniques to future model development, Geslin said. "Honda Prologue was key to fully using VR in a data-led design process, with clay modeling as the verification tool, something we will carry forward into the development of other Honda products."
While the Prologue’s exterior design effort employed traditional design processes such as a full-size exterior clay model to refine the details, the interior design execution was mainly carried out by VR and AR technology backed up with physical models. “Using VR in conjunction with a physical seating mock-up, our teams were able to evaluate interior features and future customer experiences in a variety of scenarios,” Geslin said.
“With our technology, we can build any scenic environment in [computer graphics] to evaluate models based on many variables such as consumer scenarios,” he continued. “This allows our designers and engineers to see the model in specific environments such as a scenic lake, our physical courtyards where we hold evaluations, or even the moon. The possibilities are endless.”
While we’ve had the opportunity to test a simulation of General Motors’ planned lunar rover, we’re not sure of Honda’s plans for putting its EVs on the moon. But ever since Elon Musk launched a Tesla into space it seems like anything is possible. And Honda is ready.